Bales and Frantz, still going strong. Bales photo.
A Kentucky high school valedictorian - and no doubt entirely coincidentally openly gay, gender non-conforming social activist - was banned by his Catholic school and local diocese for giving a planned commencement speech they deemed "personal, angry, confrontational and political" as well as "inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church." Christian Bales, 18, has been involved with an array of social issues, from advocating stricter gun control and "our right to feel secure as humans" to arguing for the removal of a Confederate statue from the State Capitol to supporting those attending an anti-abortion rally; so has his best friend and student council president Katherine Frantz, whose speech was also banned.
Those activities, he suggests, "likely put us on the radar for the diocese." Maybe also the fact that Bales often wore dresses and makeup to classes at Covington's Holy Cross High School, and attended prom in a sweet floral jumpsuit. School officials had already told him he would have to attend graduation "in appropriate male dress," a rule with which he complied. Still, he says, "Just myself being visible and existing has threatened them, in their minds."
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Frantz and Bales were only told hours before the ceremony their speeches were unacceptable. Speeches are usually screened by the school's principal and religion teacher, but this year they were "randomly selected" to be checked out by the diocese too; all those God-fearing leaders - surprise! - found they were both inappropriate and had been submitted after a deadline. Frantz, who is not Catholic but says he tries to be respectful of religious requirements, decided to be undaunted. His father helped him get a bullhorn, and both firebrands spoke to a crowd outside after the ceremony. Frantz urged classmates to "make differences and make changes, and "continue being yourself," quoting fellow-rabble-rouser Steve Jobs: "Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
Noting the opposition he's faced trying to be "an ethical individual," Bales insisted "we must remember we have a voice," and cited the mantra of Parkland students that, "The young people will win." "We're finished being complacent," he said. "There's a misguided notion that wisdom is directly proportional to age, but we're disproving that daily. Sometimes the wisest are the youngest in our lives, the ones who haven't yet been desensitized to the atrocities of our world. Therefore, we young people must be the educators...(We) must be willing to speak candidly about issues, and we mustn't tremble in the face of the institutions that try to silence us." Frantz, God love him, has no plans to be silenced once he heads off on scholarship to university. "I’m going to keep fighting for what I believe in,” he says. “I’m going to keep using my megaphone and intensifying my voice.”
Bales at prom. Bales photo.